Airports must improve image, N.J. group warns

 - October 4, 2007, 11:38 AM

Bob Checchio, president of the MidAtlantic Aviation Coalition (MAAC)–sponsor of the New Jersey Aviation Conference held last month in cooperation with the New Jersey Aviation Association and the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics–outlined the many problems airports face, which makes the progress that has been made in preserving airports all the more noteworthy. (New Jersey alone has lost an average of one airport a year for the last half century.)

“Airports are generally viewed as problems, not opportunities,” Checchio said. However, he singled out two New Jersey towns–Woodbine and Hammonton–that view their local airports as economic engines. Both towns are in dire need of economic development and jobs, and both recognize the importance their airports can play in achieving that goal.

Checchio noted that local communities have discriminatory zoning powers, which they often use to inhibit airport development. Additionally, there are a host of anti-airport bills awaiting action in the New Jersey legislature, he told the gathering.
These include a bill to limit runway expansion and another that would create a citizens review board consisting of only township people who oppose an airport.
“Another bill has been introduced to take money from the airport safety fund and give it to people who have moved next to an airport,” Checchio said.

Local action is required to face these challenges, he told those attending the conference, a roster that included pilots, aircraft owners, airport owners and operators and individuals active in aviation organizations and causes. “We cannot rely on national groups,” he said. He highlighted the fact that the state Division of Aeronautics has preserved a number of airports by either outright purchase or by purchase of development rights that require that an airport remain an aviation facility in perpetuity. This program is currently being implemented by the director of aeronautics, Tom Thatcher.

Greenwood Lake and South Jersey Airports have been purchased outright, and development rights have been purchased at Lincoln Park and Central Jersey Regional. Negotiations are currently under way with Alexandria, Monmouth Executive and Sussex Airports.

Checchio took over as president after his predecessor, Bill Leavens, resigned to accept a post as area representative with AOPA.

Fly a Legislator

The keynote speaker, Arlene Feldman, former director of the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics and currently Northeast region administrator for the FAA, went one step further by pointing out that there is a need for the development of new airports. She emphasized the importance of bonding with state legislators: “Fly a legislator around, especially during campaigns. Get them in the airplane. They can’t very well get out.”

She addressed other problems as well. “It’s not easy,” she said, “to balance the security needs of the country with the needs of aviation. However, one thing we are trying to do is establish a better means of communicating the ‘pop up’ TFRs, because this has been a serious problem and while we look for ways to correct it, I encourage you to be sure to read the notams and visit the FAA Web site before starting a trip.”

She continued, “AIP funding is now available for state system planning to assess the vulnerability of GA airports within a state, and the TSA now has a grant program that might allow for funding for proactive security measures at GA airports.”

Feldman commended Thatcher, current director of the Division of Aeronautics, with whom she worked in the early 1980s when she held that position, for his efforts to implement the purchase of airports and airport development rights.

The women’s segment of the program was addressed by two panels–one civilian and one military. The civilian aspect of women in aviation was addressed by Lynn
O’Donnell, a United Airlines pilot who flies the 777 and 747 generally on routes to Asia; Linda Castner, part owner of Alexandria Airport; and Margaret Lacey of the Millville FSS. O’Donnell pointed out that in 1978 only 21 women were among the ranks of the 39,000 airline pilots. “When I was hired 20 years ago, women pilots made up 2 percent of the airline pilot ranks,” she said. “Today, there are 800 women pilots at United. That’s 8 percent. Overall, it’s 12 percent now. We’re part of the landscape. We don’t hear, ‘You’re the first girl I’ve flown with’ any more.”

“Military, corporate and commercial jets now provide careers for women,” Castner said. “There are many avenues open to women today that didn’t exist in the past. There are scholarships and mentoring programs. How can we get people fired up about aviation today the way they were in 1934? We need to have creativity for airports to survive. We need to find ways to inspire people to fly. We need to get to and increase the number of people who thought they would never fly.”

Lacey warned that FSSs are going to be closed in the most sweeping change ever by the FAA. “It will be more sweeping than the consolidation of two years ago,” she said, referring to the FAA’s plans to privatize FSSs to save money. “It is being steamrollered for completion by the end of the year. There will be fewer flight stations and fewer personnel. There will be as few as three stations across the lower 48,” she said. “FSS personnel will have less time. They’ll have to talk faster and they won’t have time to explain things. It will lead to user fees, and it’s a safety issue,” she concluded.

A safety seminar on collision avoidance was also conducted by Lt. Col. Jon Spare, flight safety officer with the 514th Air Mobility Wing. He cited specific cases.
One involved a night-time accident in which one of the pilots involved had logged only seven hours of night flying. One of the pilots in another midair had evidence of several medications in his system, one of which was for painful headaches. On his medical form, the question, “Do you have frequent headaches?” was answered “no.”

Spare discussed factors involved in spotting other aircraft, such as distance, size, shape and movement, the amount of light being reflected and an aircraft’s contrast with the surrounding environment. His advice: even if you have a collision avoidance system, keep your eyes open at all times.

Tom Carver, president of the New Jersey Aviation Association, noted that aviation in the state is a multi-billion-dollar industry. He commended the state for adopting a plan to protect, promote and preserve New Jersey’s surviving airports. “But we can’t accept a law that says a runway can’t be expanded when the state buys an airport,” he stated.

Referring to the new aviation commission that governor Jim McGreevey appointed, Carver said, “There are questions that need to be asked–who’s working because an airport exists? How much tax revenue is derived from the existence of an airport? You can’t put a school at the end of a runway, but that’s what happened at South Jersey Regional. Zoning has to be designed so that it’s compatible.”

Perhaps the most refreshing item on the agenda was the appearance of six women in the Reserves– Capt. Maryjane Harris; Capt. Ellen Griffin; Capt. Cynthia Larsen; Capt. Mona Mirtich; S/Sgt Laura Phile; and AFSC Katherine Monke. All of them reflected a sense of enthusiasm and a great sense of pride in their accomplishments. Four of the women are captains, and one is a graduate of the Air Force Academy.

Several are KC-135 pilots and some have been on missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. One is a Continental Express pilot, as well as a pilot in the Reserves.
One of the women pointed out, “General aviation prepared me very well for military training.”

Matthews Leaves After 30 Years

The program was closed, fittingly enough, by Ted Matthews, retiring director of transportation services for the DOT. Matthews leaves the department next month after 31 years of service. He joined the state transportation services fresh out of Virginia Tech as an engineering trainee in the Bureau of Aviation Planning in 1973.

Matthews began his comments by crediting the previous speakers with covering everything he had planned to say. He paid tribute to those who had been helpful to him during his years of service, singling out two previous directors of the Division of Aeronautics for their achievements. He cited Feldman for laying the cornerstone of change when she conceived the New Jersey Airport Zoning Act, designed to prohibit development that would create an impact on existing airports. And he commended Jack Penn for opening up the New Jersey Airport Safety Fund so that money would become available to resurface deteriorating runway